"Up the alley and down the street Fallon and Broom sell bones and meat.
Fallon's a butcher and Broom's a thief. And Rock's the boy that buys
At the film's closing, Dr. Thomas Rock(Timothy Dalton)proclaims that he has become a ghost story that frightens children and questioned how it had gotten so far.
A revisionist take on "The Body Snatcher"(..a marvelous film produced by Val Lewton), this film has Dalton portraying a scientist whose skills in anatomy are unsurpassed thanks to his intense study of dead bodies. The law prohibits Rock from using fresh corpses for his research so all he has to use are rotted corpses brought in by grave robbers or criminals hung or animals. He soon enlists the aid of graverobbers Fallon and Broom(Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea)to bring him fresh bodies for proper research not knowing they are supplying him with victims they murder. Julian Sands plays Dr. Murray, Rock's assistant, who falls in love with a prostitute named Jennie(Twiggy)and discovers when he goes to see her how Broom and Fallon get their corpses so fresh.
The whole business of delivered bodies provides a special moral dilemma within the story(..which worked quite well in "The Body Snatcher"). Also, the film is quite an indictment on the plight of impoverished "squalor" who lie slowly dying in the streets and alleyways or drift slowly into the abyss of alcoholism. Director Fisher's camera doesn't shy away from the less fortunate as the film seems to show us first-hand their suffering. Dalton's doctor is actually the sympathetic figure in the film in regards to his recognizing the poverty that his colleagues and peers seem to either ignore or just care not to acknowledge. He honestly desires fresh bodies so that he can make a difference in the advancement of the medical profession moving it from the dark Ages to the 19th Century. It's just unfortunate he has to resort to paying graverobbers for specimens. But, the film does recognize(..like in "The Body Snatcher")that Rock knew very well that some of his specimens may've been attained beyond reasonable means. Thomas' sister provides a detrimental problem to the furtherance of his work as she believes his ways are the works of the devil. His wife is also seen as immoral by the sister for she artistically portraits anatomical charts of the human body. Others question Thomas' work as well, specifically Prof. Macklin(Patrick Stewart, whose role and character is underwritten)who wishes for his unusual methods to be grounds for dismissal.
The major moral crisis, though, comes when a deranged Fallon attempts to murder Jennie and is sought after by Dr. Murray where Rock's illegal researching in accepting bodies murdered might soon be discovered. While he only wishes to advance anatomy to save lives, his accepting murdered bodies is indeed considered immoral and unlawful.
While the material of the film might seem familiar, considering it just really feels like a remake of "The Body Snatcher" and is just difficult not to think of the previous film while watching "The Doctor and the Devils", Fisher's marvelous direction makes up for it. Unlike his Hammer years, Fisher doesn't have to hold back. He isn't held down by restrictions and can display the cruel realities of life such as the squalor in the streets as the epidemic it was. The period cinematography feels fresh and completely genuine. It is quite grim and bleak which might put off many with no hope seemingly in sight for many in this film. Fisher keeps the film, for most of the way, on the dreaded streets so that we have a hard time looking away from the truth.
In the Nineteenth Century, the renowned professor of anatomy Dr. Thomas Rock gives classes to neophyte medicine students in the local university. Dr. Rock uses his assistant Dr. Murray to buy corpses for his experiments from body snatchers paying a little fortune for the cadavers. When the alcoholic scum Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom overhear the conversation of grave-robbers about Dr. Rock, they decide to supply fresher corpses that worth more to the doctor, killing the poor inhabitants. Dr. Murray has unrequited feelings for the cockney whore Jennie Bailey that usually hangs around with the also prostitute Alice. When Dr. Murray discovers that Fallon has just sold the corpse of Alice, he seeks out the worthless Fallon and Broom to stop them from murdering Jennie. Will he arrive in time o save Jennie?
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